The name comes from the early nineteenth century when the ferry and inn (the Ferry House) were kept by John Pull. Before that it had been known as Sandlins or Sandling’s Ferry, a name that it had kept for at least 200 years. Why it changed its name in the time of John Pull I know not, but his longevity (he was ferryman for over 40 years) may have something to do with it. At the time Blomefield was writing his Topographical History of Norfolk in the eighteenth century it was still called Sandlins Ferry; this picture below dates from around 1800. The pub closed sometime before 1900, and the building became derelict. It was restored after the Second World War with money raised by the Girl Guides Association, who since then have used it for meetings. The work was done by builders R. G. Carter and architect C. Upcher.
See the man with a fishing rod on the jetty to the the Thorpe side of the river; all around him is countryside. This was to be built upon during the next fifty years, with Riverside Road, Norwich gas works, the Rosary Cemetery and of course the Railway Station turning this peaceful spot into a hub of urban activity. The river bank to the left of the picture is now the Norwich Yacht Station. Even a few years after this view was drawn, the artists of the Norwich School painted a more industrial river bank, with a boat builders yard opposite Cow Tower.
The short dyke which leads up to Pulls Ferry is what remains of a very ancient waterway. The canal is now only a short stub, but in the middle ages it went under the arch of the building and deep into the Cathedral Close. It was used to bring river traffic right up to the Cathedral, including barges carrying stone for building it. This came from Caen in France; did the vessels go all the way across the channel and end up at the canal? When Caen stone was first used on the Cathedral in the 11th century there was no port of Yarmouth, and sea-going ships were very small, so they probably did. Certainly it must have made the river a place of great activity, because not only was stone being brought in for the Cathedral, but for the castle too. Later Yarmouth insisted on unloading all ships that entered harbour. It was a very profitable business for the port.
Pulls Ferry was in use for crossing the river until the middle of the Second World War, although with Bishops Bridge only a stone’s throw away it seems a strange place for a ferry. Bishops Bridge had been a toll bridge until after the middle ages, and Pulls Ferry was a cheaper way for foot passengers to cross the river but by by the mid 20th century all the other ways of crossing from Norwich were free. One should remember however that before the building of the Riverside Walk, the way to the bridge involved a lengthy walk through the Cathedral Close. Still, unless you actually lived or worked in the Close I can’t think who would have used the ferry, especially as it cannot have been free, although it would have cost a penny or less. I think the ferry was kept open by request of the Dean and Chapter.
For centuries Bishops Bridge was the most downstream crossing over the river; from there to the sea is over twenty miles distant, and to cross the river you had to use a ferry. The ferry boat shown in the water in this 1950 colour photo (above) was still there, drawn up on bank, until about 1970. Then my cousin David Anderson, who was a teacher at Wymondham College, arranged to do it up with a party of pupils. They had cleaned off the vegetation that had grown around it, and maybe even have given it a lick of paint. What had been an unremarkable wreck became a feature of the riverside once again. So much so that it attracted the attention of the local vandals, who broke it up one night.
As you can tell, Pulls Ferry is not only a picturesque part of the Norwich scene, but also an historic one, having originally been the Watergate to the monastery. It goes back over 900 years.
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